Category Archives: beach

Seaside Sojourne 2 (sort of) Colonial Beach edition

The widest parts of the Potomac River are not quite “seaside” but they have that sort of feel, nonetheless.  On a two-day tour through Maryland’s Western Shore (or, as some call it “Southern Maryland”), and the Northern Neck of Virginia, my friend Debi and I experienced a wide variety of sites, tastes, and even smells (fish guts on a public pier and fried food in a divey pub/Tiki Bar for instance).

For brevity purposes, I will concentrate on the Northern Neck portion of our journey.  For those of you who are uninitiated, the NN is the portion of land between the mighty Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers.  This area is billed as, among other things, The Birthplace of the Nation since several founding fathers and other historic personages were born and/or grew up there.

We started our adventures in Colonial Beach.  The first thing we noticed was the mural that we parked near, depicted in the large photo at the top of this blog, which might tip one off to the fact that the town, while still charming in its own way, may have had its heyday at an earlier time period.  Other murals we encountered around town had a vintage feel as well (you can view a slide show of more of them here).  

What does one do in Colonial Beach?  We started out by indulging in some retail therapy at a very nice second hand store.  Then, we walked down and out onto to the town pier, where locals were catching some impressive catfish.  Next, walked along the beach on a pathway that leads to, among other things, the humongous Riverboat on the Potomac, a casino and restaurant which apparently gets around strict Virginia laws against such gambling establishments by being located on the river, which is technically part of Maryland.

When asked about the best crab cakes served in a beachside atmosphere, the proprietor of the second hand store recommended  The Dockside, a couple miles out of town.  Basically, you just follow the road that parallels the water until it ends in a marina and the sprawling restaurant, offering a slightly seedy but cool interior as well as two levels of “outside dining” – steamier but with water views.  There is a little beach and a small performance venue on the grounds, no doubt very popular on weekend evenings, and the de rigueur “tiki” furnishings – thatched huts and Hawaiian style decor.  The crab cakes and hushpuppies were very satisfying (I gave it a good rating on Tripadvisor.).

Our appetites being satiated, we next turned our attention to history.  Which eminent figure’s birthplace to visit?  George Washington seemed too obvious.  James Monroe was also vetoed.  Robert E. Lee…well, who could resist such a controversial and complex personage?  We headed for Stratford Hall, birthplace and boyhood home (till he was little more than a toddler) of REL.  This site did not disappoint.

In addition to the Great House, which has an oddly truncated appearance and layout despite its impressive cadre of brick chimneys, the museum at the visitor’s center and the grounds are worth lingering in.  Unfortunately, we caught the last tour of the day and didn’t have enough time to do the site justice.  But we caught the gist.

I came away feeling sad for Robert E. Lee, a brilliant and conflicted figure.  His father was a poor money manager and they had to leave this idyllic home on the Potomac for less impressive digs when the lad was four years old.  Our tour guide indicated that he seemed to yearn for this home for the rest of his life.  (The stately Lee Custis House now located in Arlington Cemetery was his wife’s family home.)  No denying, he was one of the most prominent Confederates and, of course, one of the statues in his honor was a major catalyst of the recent tragedies in Charlottesville.  But visiting his boyhood home also reminded us that he was a human being with an extremely complex history.

The Northern Neck is worth visiting for all of the above reasons:  crab cakes, scenic views, and historic circumstances that continue to haunt us all.

Sojourn by the Seaside, Ocean City Edition

It just started out as an innocent day trip to Salisbury, Maryland to deliver some maritime books I wanted to donate to the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art... but my friend Lora had other plans.  To be fair, I had requested a cultural experience (mostly of the food variety), but she went for the full package:  a trip to Ocean City.

We started at the Harborside, an OC institution and home of the Crab Club, pictured here.  This is a crab lovers dream, or nightmare perhaps, consisting of a generous crab cake on the bottom and a friend soft shell crab on the top, with the usual club sandwich accompaniments in between. (We opted out of the bacon, though, the better to savor the full crabby flavors.)

We then hit the boardwalk, which was crawling with August humanity.  Our destination was Trimper’s, a historic amusement arcade/park with some amazingly well preserved and somewhat scary features.  (Including the extensive shooting range featured above.)  After touring the sites, both historic and more contemporary, we gathered our quarters and embarked on some skee ball action.

Somehow, even though I have reached a fairly advanced age and have visited a many seasides, I had missed the experience of playing skee ball.   I found that I had no aptitude for the game whatsoever, but it was fun nonetheless.  After spending about two dollars worth of quarters trying to improve, I gave up and donated my meager stock of tickets (which you win for scoring a certain amount of points) to my intern Alison to add to her own so she could cash them in for a cheesy prize.

Crabs, check.  Boardwalk, check.  Skee ball, check.  Beach?  Well, we saw it in the distance, which was good enough.  All in all, an excellent day in OC.

Miami’s World of Water


Miami
– the very name conjures pastel colors, heat, and water, water everywhere. Many people (I would say “many Americans,” but since American popular culture has permeated the globe, it is safe to keep it general) who have not been to Miami in person have a vision of it through TV shows. For me, this was the classic, Miami Vice, which aired during my graduate school years. (It was one of the reasons one of my best friends in grad school, Hanna, convinced me to invest in a VCR, then a new concept in delayed TV viewing.) Exotic, stylish, and wet were the impressions I took away from my media encounters.

A recent trip to Miami for the annual American Folklore Society meetings did not disappoint, especially in the water department. During a pre-conference stay in Miami Beach, I explored the Art Deco area of South Beach, a series of sherbert toned, wedding cake tiered confections with a slightly seedy side, still emerging from a somewhat shady past, now a tourist magnet. The beach beckons, peeking around a string of ocean-side hotels, accessible by skirting a gift shop offering Art Deco themed paraphernalia. When I encountered the beach itself in the morning after a hard rain, it was strewn with dark seaweed and devoid of beachcombers. Ocean Boulevard, one block up, was the home of the morning action – breakfast-munching, coffee-drinking and watching the world go by in open cafes.

20161019_111301The day before the conference started in earnest, a large group of us went on a tour to the Everglades. About a half hour west, the city is left behind and you enter another world, a flat infinite vista of what looks like prairie but is actually, more or less, just a thin veneer of vegetation growing over a vast wetland, punctuated by the occasional limestone hillock. We climbed aboard airboats and donned noise blocking headphones, and set off into this realm with some guides from the Miccosukee Indian tribe, whose home this has been for centuries. Cozy in speeding suspension over the liquid landscape, we admired the water lilies, dragonflies and blue expanses of water in between, but we were also warned that this is the realm of some nasty creatures: alligators, snapping turtles, and disease-bearing mosquitoes to name a few.


Finally, the conference started
, but the contact to water did not end. Our hotel backed up to the Miami River, the shortest navigable river in the U.S., which empties into the Everglades.  Although we were mostly entombed in conference rooms, the river was not be to denied. Coffee, lunch, and happy hour breaks were taken in the hotel’s back patio by the riverside, and if your head just became too full of information, you could zone out on the steps, watch pleasure boats slide by, and dream of joining them to points unknown up the river. The last day of the conference, our conference artist in residence, Losang Samten, a Philadelphia-based Tibetan mandala maker, dismantled his colorful creation and we joined him in offering it to the river. A fit ending to a week spent exploring, and being surrounded by, the many waters of Miami.

Hilton Head Island, Sunrise to Sunset

For the past week, I’ve been visiting my family who have all retired to Hilton Head Island, 20160814_065333South Carolina.  None of them were Southerners by birth, but no matter.  There seem to be many more relocated Northerns (like our family) or Midwesterners than actual natives in HHI these days, since the original Gullah inhabitants have been priced out of the upscale beach-access properties (called, rather colonially, “plantations”) that now dominate the island.  It is a nice place for a week’s vacation.

There is the aforementioned beach, with water as warm at a bathtub and a gentle approach to swimming depth.  Swimming pools, including my sister’s own backyard retreat.  And good second hand-stores.  What more could you ask for in a vacation?  Well, if you want to venture from The Plantation, you could go visit the Coastal Discovery Center museum (its a Smithsonian Affiliate!) with indoor and outdoor displays about fl20160816_195623ora and fauna.  Or go kayaking, parasailing, paddle boarding, etc. etc.  We went on a very nice sunset/fireworks boat tour with my sister’s Rotary Club members.  Dolphins obligingly made an appearance, as well as the full moon.   It was a good respite from the Washington, DC area swelter – which comes for most of us without a beach and/or our own swimming pool – and work.  From sunrise (which I always try to get up in time for, and usually don’t make it) to sunset (which is great from the water), HHI is a nice place to visit.